The science of biotechnology is tough. R&D can be unpredictable, and most products need regulatory approval before they can be sold. But biotechnology companies also need to worry about other problems, like management issues. The case of Dyadic’s illustrates some of the often-overlooked challenges in commercializing biotechnology.
Mark Emalfarb founded Dyadic in 1979 as a supplier of tools for stone-washing jeans. When cellulase enyzme technologies for stone-washing emerged, they threatened Dyadic’s use of pumice stones. Rather than fight this change, the company sought to out-innovate early cellulase suppliers and developed a promising fungal expression system with the potential to produce large quantities of complex proteins and enzymes, including cellulase. Opportunities also exist in cellulosic biofuel production and drug manufacturing.
As is often the case in dynamic industries, innovators can be blindsided by unexpected challenges. In spring 2007, Dyadic became aware of operational and financial improprieties at its Asian subsidiaries. An investigation conducted under the supervision of the board of directors audit committee found that Emalfarb had willfully concealed facts relating the improprieties, which led to his termination. [a representative from Dyadic opted not to comment on this case, and instead directed me to their press release archives]. A report detailing their justification for firing Emalfarb does not imply direct malfeasance, but claims that Emalfarb did not take strong-enough action to stop off-the-books and tax-evading transactions.
Emalfarb, who maintains his innocence, is the largest shareholder of Dyadic, and has been fighting to regain control of the firm. In February 2008 Emalfarb and two hedge funds, who collectively own more than 50% of the shares, issued a letter to the company demanding the resignation of the new CEO and two board members. Interestingly, despite the protests of this group representing a controlling share of the company, the battle for control continues.
Sadly, this is a case with no clear winner. Regardless of who will direct the company in the future, the share price has been decimated and growth opportunities have certainly been missed. Rather than focusing on developing applications of Dyadic’s core technologies, the founder and company are engaged in legal battles.
[Update: Emalfarb regained control of the company]